Election campaigns have a new battleground in the Chinese social media platform WeChat — a hybrid of Facebook and WhatsApp where politically aligned commentators generate and spread a combination of gossip and fake news targeting Chinese-Australian and Chinese speaking voters.
Despite the perceived influence of WeChat, political parties and candidates need to realise it's not and should not be the only platform to communicate with Chinese-Australian voters.
Not all Chinese-Australian voters use WeChat and for those that are on it, their opinions most certainly do not reflect nor represent the diversity of Chinese-Australians.
In my experience I have found Chinese-Australians, especially recent migrants from mainland China, susceptible to fearmongering, fake news and misinformation due to their limited knowledge of Australian politics and current affairs.
This usually results in overreactions and hyper-anxiety towards issues such as refugees and asylum seekers, migration, the environment, the economy, tax, social programs such as Safe Schools and even foreign policy, especially Australia's relationship with China.
As for ABCs (Australian Born Chinese, that is) and those who have been living in Australia for longer periods of time, they tend to ignore WeChat and instead favour other platforms for information and opinions such as mainstream media outlets, local Chinese language media, Chinese-Australian community organisations and community gatherings.
Throughout the years I've worked with the Chinese-Australian community and as a former local government councillor, I have found face-to-face engagement still by far the best communication method to build trust, rapport and feedback on issues.
Most politicians don't understand our community
Unfortunately for us, the diversity within our community is not fully understood by the majority of our politicians and political parties.
Out of the 1.2 million Australians with Chinese heritage and ancestry, more than 500,000 were born in Mainland China while more than700,000 were born in places such as Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines and of course Australia.
My Vietnamese-Chinese-Australian parents, who were both born in Vietnam with Chinese ancestry, are still a confusing concept not just some Australians but those from mainland China.
And let's not forget the non-migrants such as the ABCs like myself whom are very much integrated in Australian culture but also value our Chinese heritage and ancestry.
Such diversity also means not all Chinese-Australians speak Chinese Mandarin. While Chinese Mandarin is fast becoming the dominant Chinese dialect, many Chinese-Australians — including my family — speak regional dialects such as Cantonese, Teochew, Shanghaiese, Hakka and Hokkien among others.
Our views aren't all the same
Much to my frustration, I am quick to point out our views are just as diverse as our backgrounds.
On the issue of refugees and asylum seekers alone, I have found recent migrants, especially business migrants from Mainland China tend to take on an anti-refugee approach while some Chinese-Australians, like my parents who arrived in Australia as boat people, are much more sympathetic in calling for a more generous humanitarian settlement program.
This diversity means when it comes to engaging and communicating with Chinese-Australian voters — it's never a one-size-fits-all model.
Chinese-Australian voters I've come across during the election campaign have not just pointed out the over-the-top emphasis by campaigners and political parties on WeChat but the lack of opportunities to discuss policies and issues with candidates, ministers and shadow ministers in person.
As a starting point there are hundreds of Chinese-Australian community organisations scattered across the country. These organisations deliver a wide range of services from aged care, community health, migration and settlement services, people-to-people links, cultural, language classes, business, philanthropy, education and advocacy.
They don't just serve as the first point of contact for many Chinese-Australians but a resource to better understand the issues facing our community. By working with these community organisations and their representatives, it provides politicians and candidates with a platform to not just engage but explore policy issues in greater detail, gather feedback and address concerns at a much deeper and productive level.
These community organisations are largely ignored in favour of WeChat and advertising in local Chinese language media.
For political parties and candidates to put the majority of their resources and energy just on WeChat shows how little knowledge they have of the Chinese-Australian community. If they are serious about getting our vote, they should put in the extra effort in obtaining it.
Any seasoned campaigner, consultant and candidate knows it takes more than social media posts to win over voters. Chinese-Australian voters are no different and should not be treated differently.
Jieh-Yung Lo is a Chinese-Australian writer, commentator and a former member of the Australian Labor Party.
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